Bailout may continue

Treasury official tells Congress TARP aid may be needed for another year

By Anne Flaherty
Associated Press / September 25, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration yesterday sent its clearest signal yet that it is prepared to extend its $700 billion bailout for Wall Street for another year, even as lawmakers said they were frustrated not enough was being done to help the average American.

“We still have work to do,’’ Herbert Allison Jr., the Treasury official in charge of the bailout fund, told a congressional panel.

While some economic indicators suggest the nation is beginning to heal from the worst crisis in decades, analysts warn that the market is fragile. Hundreds more banks are expected to fail in the next few years, largely because of souring loans for commercial real estate.

In his testimony to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Allison repeatedly deferred to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on whether the administration would authorize an extension of the bailout program through next year, as the law allows.

At the same time, Allison said further government intervention in the market may be necessary because of the decline in commercial real estate.

“In this context, it is prudent to maintain capacity to address new developments,’’ Allison told the committee. “By bolstering confidence, having such capacity may actually reduce the need to use it.’’

Congress approved the rescue plan, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, with bipartisan support in October 2008 at the request of President George W. Bush, at the height of the financial crisis.

The Treasury Department has the option of extending the program to October 2010, so long as it provides a justification to Congress before the end of the year.

According to the administration’s latest report, the Treasury has committed $443.8 billion from the fund to specific institutions. Banks have paid back the Treasury $70.3 billion of the assistance they received, and they have paid nearly $9.4 billion in dividends and interest payments.

TARP is credited in part with pulling back the financial sector from near collapse last year. But its infusions of money into huge banks, the giant insurer AIG, and the auto industry have been unpopular with the public and in Congress, where lawmakers are under pressure to save jobs and stop foreclosures.

Senate Republicans were adamant that the government terminate the program now that the United States is no longer in a state of emergency.

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said TARP was shaping up to be a permanent fixture in government.

Allison denied this, telling Vitter, “We’d like to see this wound down as soon as possible.’’